WEST POINT – Teamwork, togetherness and hard work would seem to be characteristics as inherent to an Army cadet as red and white blood cells, and Jeff Monken is not denying their existence. But the first-year Black Knights’ football coach believes there’s still a difference between what a player might exhibit off the field as opposed to on it. As spring practice enters its first full week, that’s among the traits he’s exploring in his players.
As far as he sees it players at every level need to be motivated and Monken, a coach for 25 years, has not given up the concept, despite his new address.
“I think you have to push them just as much,” he said. “They have to be pushed. There’s some guys who will shut it down and say, ‘I don’t want to be pushed that hard.’ I don’t know if we’ve got that here. You can push guys at other places and they’ll say, ‘That’s not for me.’ I’m not sure that’s the case here and our guys have a level of commitment because they’re a part of this academy. We’re asking them to do something beyond what they have to do as a cadet. It’s commit to this team and a level of commitment to this group. Just set apart from their peers in the corps. The swimming team, the basketball team, the lacrosse team all have a level of commitment in this corps. These kids aren’t cookie cuttered.”
One thing Monken has observed since taking over the job in December is just because every cadet wears a uniform, uniformity is not set in stone.
“There’s 4400 cadets and there are going to be 4400 personalities,” he said. “They’re not all going to say, ‘OK, I’m a cadet now going to the military academy and personally committed to whatever you assign me to do.’ There’s still some buy-in that’s needed and a loyalty and a trust that happens over time and some of those guys aren’t entitled to their trust and loyalty. You have to earn that so I’m going to try to do that. It’s the same for each of those guys to their teammates.”
Still, there need be a slightly different perspective when it comes to judging a player – or any student – at the academy. Having served as an assistant coach at Navy for five years, Monken is surely aware of what these guys are trained for. How many players at his other collegiate stops – Hawaii, Arizona State, Buffalo, Concordia, Georgia and Georgia Southern – have been killed in the Middle East the last 13 years? How many have come home missing a leg or an arm or an eye?
“They’re not entitled for their teammates to just believe in them,” Monken said. “They have to earn that loyalty and that trust among each other and they have to give it hard and give everything you’ve got and then there is loyalty. That’s development and there is a trust. Because you believe the guy next to you is going to give it everything he’s got; that he cares about you and that’s why he’s giving everything he’s got. If he doesn’t care he’s not going to push himself and everyone is going to recognize that. ‘If I don’t do my best then everyone is going to recognize that so there won’t be a loyalty and trust for me.’ That’s how teams and teamwork and a team spirit are built. If you don’t have that he’ll find his way out of the room or we’ll help him leave. That’s just part of a team.”
And that teamwork begins to manifest itself just as the sun prepares to rise. There aren’t many late sleepers at West Point, but the football team is the standard bearer, getting to workouts and weights at 5:30. Monken said that has been standard-operating procedure for 17 years at Army, and he saw no reason to change it. One more way, he said, to get an idea of individual goals and the manner in which they can be achieved.
“Early in the morning,” Monken said. “Not everybody enjoys being up at 5:30 in the morning running around but that’s the way you start your day. I think that’s the level of commitment you have to have. I like to see who’s working, I like to see who’s committed.”
Indeed he shall.